Prof: Revamp reading ed


Published March 9, 2006

Education Prof. Elizabeth Moje has spent the last eight years reading over the shoulders of middle and high school students.

She shadowed a group of mostly Latino students from Southwest Detroit, attending classes with them in middle school and high school.

Her conclusion: Make reading more applicable to them, and they'll learn better.

She noticed that while most became frustrated and bored reading textbooks, they enjoyed reading novels featuring realistic protagonists - particularly characters around their age in fantastic or suspenseful situations, such as the Harry Potter series, "The Outsiders," "Holes" and "Hatchet."

"One of the main themes is that the books feel real to them," Moje said.

In her new book, "Constructions of Literacy: Studies of Teaching and Learning in and Out of Secondary Schools," Moje explores young people's attitudes toward the written word. Contrary to the popular belief that adolescents don't read, Moje has found that 77 percent of students could name a favorite book.

Using these findings, Moje hopes to help teachers engage students in subject material using different types of texts that are interesting to them.

Rackham student Lisa Hoffman, who also teaches ninth grade biology and English at Harrison High School in Farmington, has used Moje's techniques to engage her students in course work.

"You have to focus on the issues within the books and help students to relate the issues to the things that are important to them," she said. "So when you're talking about something like Romeo and Juliet, you're talking about love and relationships."

In her biology class, she brings in newspaper articles, cartoons, pictures and graphs to help students understand the material through "visual representation."

Moje includes competency in text messaging, instant messaging conversations and even graffiti in her definition of literacy.

"One has to acknowledge the fact that these forms of communication rely on knowledge of and expertise with symbol systems (including alphabetic symbols)," Moje said in an e-mail interview. "Thus, studying how and why youth use such forms allows us to build on those literate skills to further develop what we sometimes call academic literacy skills."

Educators in the real-world are looking towards these types of studies for feedback.

Laura Schiller, a literacy consultant for Oakland Intermediate School District, helps teachers look at ways to help students with reading.

"We have to do a really good job in talking to our kids and finding out their interests and how to use those interests as a way to engage them in their schoolwork," Schiller said.